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Discovering Australia: Visit the world’s largest river red gum forest

Discovering Australia: Visit the world’s largest river red gum forest

Barmah National Park, together with parks on the New South Wales side of the Murray River, protects the largest river red gum forest in the world.

Call into the Barmah Forest Heritage Centre in Nathalia before you visit to glean all sorts of interesting things, such as that it wasn’t just woodcutting and riverboating that were the lifeblood of these riverside towns last century – apparently leech collecting for medicinal bloodletting was once big business, too. The hardy harvesters would walk through the swamps collecting the bloodsuckers on their legs for the princely sum of one shilling per pound – a hard way to make a living!

You can camp anywhere you like along much of the 112-kilometre river front in this national park, but the free campground at Barmah Lakes has toilets and tables and lots of room to move. It’s a great place to launch a kayak and explore the river, although be careful: the current is stronger than it looks. It’s also a good spot to fish, particularly for the famed Murray cod. You will need a New South Wales fishing licence to fish the Murray River, even though you are technically on the

Victorian side of the border. Also worth your while is the two-hour cruise along the narrowest and fastest flowing section of the Murray through the wetlands – home to almost 900 species of wildlife – and red gum forests. Cruises depart from the Barmah Lakes picnic area.

For more river cruising, take a drive to nearby Echuca (40 kilometres west of the campground), the self-proclaimed paddle steamer capital of the country. During the river port’s boom days in the 1880s, when the Murray River was the only way to transport goods from the remote inland settlements to the coastal ports, hundreds of paddle steamers loaded and unloaded their cargo at the historic wharf. Echuca still has the world’s largest collection of working paddle steamers, some more than a century old, including the PS Adelaide built in 1886 and the PS Pevensey, made famous in the 1980s TV series All the Rivers Run. A river cruise is the most popular thing to do in town and there are several cruise options – head down to the wharf to check sailing times. Before you go, drop into the Echuca Historical Society Museum to see the old river charts that the riverboat captains used to navigate the river. They’re hand drawn on long linen scrolls; sometimes all the captains had to go on was a picture of a tree on a bend. The museum is in the old police lock-up and has a huge collection of old photos and memorabilia from the riverboat era.

Where is it?

Barmah National Park lies along the Murray River between the towns of Barmah and Strathmerton, about 225km north of Melbourne.

Why go?

Camping and scenery

When to go?

Relatively mild, the Barmah forests are a good year-round destination, although winter is generally wetter than summer. The park sometimes floods after heavy rain, so check current conditions on the national parks website (see below) before travelling.

How long?

2-3 days

This is an edited extract from Australia’s Best Nature Escapes by Lee Atkinson published by Hardie Grant Books [39.99] and is available in stores nationally.

Photographer: © Lee Atkinson